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The Terminal Spy: A True Story of Espionage, Betrayal and Murder

3.35  ·  Rating Details ·  178 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
In a page-turning narrative that reads like a thriller, an award-winning journalist exposes the troubling truth behind the world’s first act of nuclear terrorism.

On November 1, 2006, Alexander Litvinenko sipped tea in London’s Millennium Hotel. Hours later the Russian émigré and former intelligence officer, who was sharply critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin, fell
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published August 5th 2008 by Broadway (first published 2008)
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Robert Isenberg
Feb 16, 2014 Robert Isenberg rated it liked it
Overall, "The Terminal Spy" is an oddly shaped book. The opening chapter is written in the style of a sweeping epic, as if trying to capture the entire zeitgeist of 21st-Century London. We frantically jump around in time, as if the author, jittery with excitement, can't decide where to start. He includes himself, but never illustrates himself. He suggests deadly portent, but then refuses to fill in the details until the final act. He talks about his secret meetings with people, but those meeting ...more
Feb 16, 2009 Fred rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Three lessons:

-- avoid contact with polonimum 210
-- never criticize the Russian FSB or Russian oligarchs
-- work for the separation of wealth and power in the U.S. as a cornerstone of democracy

Mar 21, 2014 Leslie rated it really liked it
Choose audio version. I believe Simon Vance could tell the story of my three years sorting mail at the Post Office and make it sound fascinating and compelling.
Mar 14, 2014 Dex rated it really liked it
Part murder-mystery, part spy thriller, part nonfictional accounting of events -- I think that's the easiest way to sum up this book. It was a fascinating read, to combine in with everything else I've been reading on Russia this year.

We open up with a three-page brief introduction to a few dozen people who repeatedly show up in the investigation around Alexander Litvinenko's death, and then the first chapter starts up like this just might be a work of fiction. Unfortunately, it's all too true.

When I saw the Shelf Awareness ad for Alan Cowell’s The Terminal Spy, I only vaguely remembered the incident, and can’t say that the implications of the issue were at the forefront of my mind. Still, I found the premise interesting enough to want to read the book. I must say that it in no way disappointed.

The Terminal Spy, documenting the incident of an ex-KGB, Russian émigré’s poisoning death in London, reads like the best espionage thriller, full of shadowy characters and murderous intrigue.

Aug 14, 2008 Jeffrey rated it really liked it
Shelves: war, current-events
Alexander Litvinenko seemed like an ordinary refugee to London. Russian émigrés have long filled London, fleeing all sorts of oppression in their homeland. What makes Litvinenko extraordinary is that he was assassinated in a very unique way that became very public. He was poisoned using a very exotic radioactive isotope in a cup of tea.

Litvinenko was a former KGB spy (he also worked for the FSB, a KGB successor). He became an outspoken critic of Putin, and being a critic of Putin is not a long t
Jul 31, 2011 Lulu rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Patient people
Recommended to Lulu by: Bought at B&N
I'm halfway done, but I'm going to have to give up. This book jumps around way too much (something that the other reviewers warned me about).

It's a fascinating story, but the narrative is choppy. I've read a good deal of true crime (http://www.whatbookshouldireadtoday.c...) and some authors do a beautiful job of explaining the background of the crime without losing the momentum of the story. Unfortunately, Alan S. Cowell, the former chief of the New York Times London bureau, doesn't seem to hav
Oct 11, 2010 Megan rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I've been trying to figure out why I was so disappointed in this book, and think I've finally gotten there. The author spends hundreds of pages giving biographical details of several figures in the book - details that, while they help paint a picture of what it was like in the Soviet Union/Russia, ultimately weren't as interesting as the actual crime at the heart of the book. Then the author seemed to race through the actual poisoning event, how the suspects were identified, where they could hav ...more
Mark Sequeira
There's now, like, three books on the radioactive poisoning of dissident Alexander Litvinenko and supposedly a movie on the way starring Johnny Depp. This one, Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB by Alex Goldfarb and The Litvinenko File: The Life and Death of a Russian Spy by Martin Sixsmith as well as Litvinenko's book Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror and Putin's Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New ...more
Jan 20, 2009 Livy rated it it was ok
This is one of the worst-written books I have ever read. It was a torture to get through, like reading a really bad 9th grade essay. The author is especially fond of extremely dramatic one-line paragraphs that he then neglects to back up with any actual information or evidence. You are just supposed to take his word for it. It's amazing how long this book is, considering how little it actually says.

In fairness I was reading an "advance copy" that perhaps had not been rigorously edited yet. I rea
Jared Della Rocca
Sep 01, 2010 Jared Della Rocca rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2011
While an interesting plot for a novel---death of an ex-KGB spy by poisoning in London---it didn't work so well as a non-fiction book, but that may be due to the author. There are holes in the narrative of Litvinenko's last day, so there's no definitive conclusion. Cowell constantly tries to play both sides of the coin on Litvinenko, alternatively portraying him as a pawn and a central figure, aware of his fate while not knowing what's coming. And nearly every other page Cowell "foreshadows" Litv ...more
Crossett  Library
Jan 26, 2011 Crossett Library rated it did not like it
While an interesting plot for a novel---death of an ex-KGB spy by poisoning in London---it didn't work so well as a non-fiction book, but that may be due to the author. There are holes in the narrative of Litvinenko's last day, so there's no definitive conclusion. Cowell constantly tries to play both sides of the coin on Litvinenko, alternatively portraying him as a pawn and a central figure, aware of his fate while not knowing what's coming. And nearly every other page Cowell "foreshadows" Litv ...more
Oct 05, 2010 Amberlynne rated it really liked it
It starts off a little slow, more Russian history than true-crime thriller. But the background on the main players becomes important later and is worth working through. Not many books could combine history and espionage with a dash of physics and get away with it, but this one does. But it's not exactly a comforting story in terms of the future of Russian relations with the West and terrorism in general. Part of me wants to explore Putin a little more while part of me doesn't really want to know ...more
Oct 15, 2013 Derek rated it really liked it
This too was a little slow at times. There are, however, two key aspects of the book that really resonated with me. First, the historical data regarding Russia in general was fascinating. This was my first real glimpse into the period of the Oligarchs during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. The book also explained how that period led into the renewal of authoritarianism under Putin. The super rich Russian populace and their migration to “Londongrad” was interesting.
Apr 25, 2011 Elliott rated it it was ok
This book should have been about two hundred pages shorter. While some parts are fascinating and insightful, others are just repetitious and verbose. And then Alan S. Cowell spends fifty-plus pages telling us all the details of several completely speculative accounts of the murder. When the author sticks to the evidence, he tells a very interesting and important story.
Oct 21, 2008 Rebecca rated it it was ok
Well, I found this book hard to follow so I skipped around to the parts that interested me - he doesn't tell the story linearly - he goes off on tangents and does explain a lot about other things - plutonium, Russian political history, Putin's history etc but I wanted to hear the STORY about Sasha. in the end I was glad I read it but I would encourage readers to not feel compelled to read it in page order!
I don't usually choose books about spies or international intrique, but this book fell into my lap so I listened to it. I found it interesting and learned many things. I ended up goggling all the persons involved to learn more. I also very much enjoy listening to books read by this narrator, Mr. Lee.
Phil Valentine
Dec 08, 2015 Phil Valentine rated it it was amazing
Talk about a book that reads like a spy novel, and it's a true story! Cowell does a superb job in telling this incredible story. I thirst for spy novels like a man lost in a desert of mediocre writing. Most times I'm disappointed (they just don't make Ian Flemings any longer), but you won't be disappointed with this. Better than any tale anyone could make up.
May 07, 2009 Kjes rated it liked it
story of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russianm former KGB, who defected to Great Britain, and was poisoned with radiation in London. Putin was obviously behind it, as well as being behind the murder of the journalist shot down in her apartment stairwell, and many other deaths and disappearances as well.
Aug 11, 2008 Amy rated it liked it
This was an interesting book, especially with what is going on in Russia right now. How odd to think of someone being the primary witness to their own murder. The only problem I had with this book was that it seemed the authro occasionally couldn't decide on his style of writing. It would have been better if the narrative style was more consistent.
Dec 17, 2008 Suzanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book provides a very personal account of the poisoning of the ex-KGB agent Litvenenko, the author did a great deal of research into his personal story as well as a historical account of how the ultra wealthy Russian class established itself. It's not the easiest read but is addicting if you like true stories of spies and espionage. I felt smart after I read it ;)
Good background on Berezovsky and some of the other secondary players in the Litvinenko poisoning. Lacks cohesion -- seems like a few great subject essays (I am often impressed by the depth of background research), strung together by way too much foreshadowing. Had higher hopes for the writing, but came away knowing a lot more about the rise of the oligarchs.
Aug 01, 2011 Doctordalek rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Extremely interesting! I thought that it would be more of a shady conspiracy book, but it turns out that quite a lot is known about the events which occurred. The book is easy to read, throws around a lot of big words every now and then in a lame attempt to appear more intellectual than it is, but in the end, it's a riveting book that all interested people should check out.
Oct 18, 2009 DJ rated it really liked it
This is such a fascinating story on many levels; the intrigue, the life story and (for me) the progress of the poisoining and the search to find the culprits. It's a bit of a dry read, so I didn't get through it as fast as I'd hoped, but for the science-fiends out there, you will be intrigued by the information about Polonium. That in itself is worth the rest of the book.
Jan 28, 2009 Pat rated it liked it
This book is about the Russian who died in London of plutonium poisoning a couple of years ago. Lots of background about the byzantine Russian relationships, but, for the most part, it's hard to care about the characters because all of them seem to be living in a deliberately-fostered world of intrigue just because they want to live that way.
Marla Milligan
Dec 18, 2010 Marla Milligan rated it it was ok
This is a true story of a Russian spy that was killed by poison. I had a really heard time getting through this but about half way through it started to get better. Depicted Russia as a Mafia invested Country with alot of greed, power and violence. Sad story!!
May Khaw
It's not bad, but there are a lot of digressions to provide background.

And if it's background that you want, Paul Klebnikov's Godfather of the Kremlin covers a lot of the same ground, and more lucidly too.
Nov 14, 2015 William rated it it was amazing
Well researched and a fascinating read of Russian clandestine services and the politics within. I'd say this is a must read who want to understand the evolution of the KGB and what it became in the aftermath of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. I very much enjoyed this book.
Karl Hafer, Jr.
Dec 28, 2011 Karl Hafer, Jr. rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Cowell describes the incredible political scene in "Londongrad" - the set of often very wealthy Russian émigrés living in the UK and also objectively details one of the most horrifying acts of assassination in memory.
Apr 02, 2009 Shandra rated it really liked it
Based upon a 2006 account of Russia's President Pudin and how a spy/traitor was killed by an old adjective of poisioning. Death by leathal does of pollum that was given to the spy/traitor in the Cold War times as a harsh death sentence. A good read if interested in actual accounts of murder.
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